Mental health unit's artistic programme to "provide joy" for patients

Charlie Pugh examines the link between mental health and art, reporting on the work of the charity Hospital Rooms.

Charlie Pugh
17th December 2020
Credit: @Hospital_Rooms on Twitter

Art and mental health have always had a unique relationship, one that has the potential for devastating and life-giving repercussions. The trope of the tortured artist is an old one, but there is another side to that coin. Art is also a powerful force for healing.

In Northside House, a mental health unit in Norwich, patients are working with artists to create a building-wide artwork, a colourful mural across the walls of the building. Hospital Rooms is the charity commissioning this. They work with the NHS to create artwork for mental health inpatients across England. They have a passion to use art to “provide joy and dignity and to stimulate and heal”.

Hospital Rooms has commissioned six artists for this transformation, both to create and to run workshops for the patients. This project is a long-term, inclusive program not just about beautifying a building, but teaching and introducing the patients to art in a new way.

“You have reached the unreachable.

-Support Worker, Forensic Mental Health, 2019

Tim Shaw, a co-founder of Hospital Rooms, highlighted in an interview just how vital the enjoyment the artists got from this project, as they got to know the long term patients. He believes that the impact of changing the environments is profound, but also notes the effect that creating art has. “Six amazing artists come to spend time with people who often have very low self-esteem – and show them respect – and there’s a lot of value there.”

Art is a powerful tool. The creation of art nurtures mindfulness, passion, self-actualisation, and importantly, gives people something to work for. It can provide meaning and quiet when those things are lacking. A 2007 study trying to qualitatively analyse the effects of an art therapy program found six major themes that patients felt they received from the act of creating art: expression, self-discovery, acceptance and hope, self-validation, spirituality*, and empowerment.

“[Art] is life for me, you know? It’s something very spiritual, you know? It’s not always one answer; it’s always different things…you might finish one artwork and that’s it. And you might finish another artwork and it might be ‘Hold on a second, I can take something out of that and put it in another artwork’ or maybe ‘I can grow from that’.”

Anonymous Study Participant

Evidence shows over and over again that art therapy works, and it is such an important thing, especially in times when those struggling with mental health are more alone and marginalised than ever.

If you would like to donate to Hospital Rooms, click here. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, make contact with a professional through your local GP, or in a crisis, call Samaritans at 116 123.

*Spirituality in this case generally meaning the connection between the subjects and the core of their existence.

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